Protecting Your Identity In The Real World

Dean Bentle

The Better Business Bureau has posted several entries on their website concerning Identity Theft. The following is an excerpt from their site: PROTECTING YOUR IDENTITY IN THE REAL WORLD

A great deal of the recent media coverage of identity theft focuses on exotic new ways that people with bad intentions can steal your good name - mostly things that involve computers or cell phones or other wireless devices. Indeed, identity theft involving new technologies is an increasing problem, and we'll give you lots of good advice on how to protect yourself on our "In the Virtual World" section.

The truth, however, is that most "garden variety" identity theft doesn't involve cyberspace. Today, most identity thieves still rely on tried-and-true methods to get their hands on your paper records - real documents that can serve as the basis for their dirty work.

In the past, when a thief stole your wallet or purse, that person was after hard currency. Today, that thief is after your identity - not your money, and a few of your documents - a Social Security card, a driver's license or a credit or debit card - can be worth thousands of dollars in the wrong hands.

What does the identity thief want?
Simply put, the thief wants to become you - and the better you look on paper, the more likely you are to be a target. There are an almost infinite number of ways for a thief to steal your identity; we'll discuss the most common ones here. But everything starts with the thief's ability to get access to certain key pieces of information that belong to you. Here's just a few things the thief is looking for:

Where does the identity thief find these?
In the real world, the answers to this question range from the absolutely obvious to the very unusual. Here are just some of the sources a thief may go to obtain your personal information:


  • Your wallet or purse. Take just a moment right now to take out your wallet or open your purse. Imagine that you were up to no good. What could you do with the contents? While you probably don't have an excessive amount of cash, most of us have a great deal of personal information packed into this relatively small space. How many credit cards are you carrying? Do you have bank PINs jotted down to jog your memory? How about your health insurance ID card? Voter registration card? Driver's license, registration and auto insurance card? Frequent flyer or frequent guest cards? Car rental premium cards? Is your Social Security number on one or more of the documents?
  • Your mailbox. In the wrong hands, your incoming mail can be a treasure trove of information about you. A bill from your credit card company, a statement from your checking account, an unsolicited offer of a new, pre-approved credit card (complete with application). And your outgoing mail may include personal checks you are sending to pay bills (containing your routing and checking account numbers). If you don't have a locked mailbox for incoming and outgoing mail, you are vulnerable.
  • Your glove compartment. Some people's auto glove compartment contains their owner's manual, and not much more. For other people, it's a mobile filing cabinet, containing things like vehicle registrations, insurance cards, old bills, credit card receipts. If you left your car unlocked and someone got inside, how much personal information about you could they discover?
  • Your trash. Because people find it hard to believe that anyone would want to pour through garbage cans, they throw away the darndest things - things like unsolicited credit card applications, old bills, expired credit cards, unused checking account deposit slips and countless other papers. So, for the identity thief, a bit of "dumpster diving" can provide a rich harvest of personal information - information that can be used to become you.
  • You. Sometimes, you can be your own worst enemy. Simply put, the easiest way for a thief to steal your identity is to ask you for it. Posing as your bank, or your insurance company, or your doctor's office, the thief calls you on the telephone, gives you a plausible story and asks you for key pieces of personal information. This practice is called "pretexting", and you can learn more about the practice from the Federal Trade Commission.